Colleen Newlin


Know the Limits of SEO

Remember when companies would call themselves something like AAA Plumbing just to guarantee a spot in front of their competitors in the Yellow Pages?

I do, if just barely.

An equivalent to that nowadays are eateries with names such as, “A Thai Restaurant Near Me.”

These companies are so focused on being the first option people see when they scroll down search pages that they will change their very names to rank a little higher.

This is “search engine optimization”—or SEO—taken to the extremes and, like SEO in general, there are three big things that limit its ultimate effects.

  1. There’s a difference between being visible and being valuable

Someone could be the first plumber people saw when they opened the Yellow Pages in a fret one Saturday night, but if that person didn’t deign to even pick up the phone, that call (along with the next one) would go to some plumber in the back of the book who did.

Similarly, someone can own the first Thai restaurant that comes up when people do a quick search online, but if the noodles taste like wet cardboard and the Pad Thai has more salt than the Dead Sea, people will find somewhere else to eat next time (and the time after that).

In both cases, and many more, being visible doesn’t lead to being valuable to a specific group of customers—and that’s ultimately what a thriving business is based on.

  1. A solid reputation isn’t achieved overnight

Warren Buffett once observed that “it takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.”

SEO can certainly speed up the process of earning a good reputation online, but it still takes effort over time and often across different media channels.

This is bad news for anyone who, like Veruca Salt, wants something and wants it now, but it’s nevertheless true. Good things, things of lasting value, often take time. 

  1. What the algorithm favors today may be downplayed tomorrow 

Imagine the horror someone felt after paying for a spot in the Yellow Pages as AAA Locksmith only to find out that someone else had the same idea, but chose to put four A’s at the start of his company. 

It’s comparable to what some business owners must have felt who based their entire business on using SEO tricks to rank higher in search engines, but then saw their traffic disappear when the trick became overused or the algorithm changed.

Though some tricks may work once, and though they may seem clever at the time, they do not work long-term, especially in our fast-moving, constantly-updated world. As the saying goes, the algorithm giveth and the algorithm taketh away.

So why, given all these limitations, do people rave about SEO?

 While SEO won’t pick up the phone, do the work, and please anyone’s customers for them—while it won’t give them a good reputation or a thousand true fans overnight—and while it won’t provide a lot of value long term absent the attention and effort of a team with skills and experience, it is nonetheless invaluable.

Wait, did I just say that SEO is invaluable? Yes, I did! And here’s why: 

  •     It allows a business to reach a targeted group of customers when they are most interested
  •     It gives a business added legitimacy and credibility
  •     It works to cement the identity of a business’s brand, what we think is the backbone of every successful marketing campaign
  •     It helps turn potential customers into actual customers and actual customers into raving fans

So sure, there are limitations to it, and of course the customer’s experience with a product or service is paramount, but SEO—when done well—is an indispensable tool within a larger marketing framework, one that helps customers find what they’re looking for and that then helps the businesses that offer it succeed.

Does this sound like something your business could benefit from?

Our team has decades of experience using SEO and other marketing tools to help our clients thrive. If you’d like to be the next one, let’s talk about how we can do that for your business as well!

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